Generation Z, born between 1990 and 2000, make up 23m of the population in the US, according to The Center for Generational Kinetics, and 1.9bn globally, according to GettingGenZ.com. Recent research suggests that members of this generation form one of the most health-conscious consumer demographics. Only 38% of 11–15-year-olds have consumed alcohol at least once and 18% have tried smoking, according to a 2014 NatCen survey. While these figures may seem high, they are the lowest since the survey began in 1982. This correlates with more recent research by Demos that reveals that 19% of 16–24-year-olds in the UK don’t drink at all.
This demographic’s interest in health is in contrast to much of the available health data, which shows that they perhaps do not yet have a holistic understanding of the impact on their bodies of their competing lifestyle factors. With 33% of UK 10–11-year-olds obese or overweight, according to the National Child Measurement Programme, any nascent interest in a more upstream approach to health should be welcomed. Yet, while wellness is a modern-day obsession, it remains a largely untouched territory in terms of businesses targeting Generation Z.
One reason for this might be the growing concern that all is not well with the wellness market, especially in terms of the paradoxical relationship that some claim it creates between bodily and mental health. As Ruth Whippman, author of Pursuit of Happiness, told Amuse: ‘America’s obsession with happiness and personal wellbeing is an exhaustive, anxiety-inducing paradox.’ Is this something that we should be encouraging children and teenagers to start worrying about?
Indeed, when WellJelly, a first-of-its-kind wellness festival aimed at Generation Z, was launched earlier this year, some commentators complained that the company was merely jumping on the wellness bandwagon. Others proclaimed that pushing concepts of wellness onto developing adolescents was too extreme and could lead to unnecessary anxiety disorders or body issues.
China Drewitt, founder of WellJelly, counters that wellness events that aim to educate children from a young age are paramount for the healthcare system to prevent mental problems such as anxiety or depression. ‘In the home environment no habit-building measures are taught to children to help them deal with stress. Introducing preventative habit-building techniques earlier in their adolescence would mean that systems would be preventative rather than reactive,’ she told LS:N Global.
Although the response wasn’t as positive as anticipated and led to the event being postponed, Drewitt claims that perhaps it was too early. ‘We are a couple of years away from the parental shift happening, where they are prepared to invest in their children’s wellness in a preventative way,’ she says. In short, we might have to wait until Millennial parents outnumber their Generation X counterparts at the school gate for the wellness market to be able to reach a teenage audience.
Some might argue, however, that the negative response to WellJelly was due to its illegitimate line-up. This mainly featured influencers such as Made in Chelsea star Tiffany Watson and Maddi Waterhouse, sister of supermodel Suki Waterhouse, who endorse themselves as fitness fanatics but merely have Instagram accounts with a large following. It is easy to see why some might challenge the authenticity of the event and claim that it traded more on interest in appearance rather than genuinely improving children’s health. For such an event to be appealing, aspirational ambassadors that live and breathe wellness are crucial.
And recent initiatives such as the McDonald’s Happy Meal fitness trackers will only make it more difficult to persuade parents that wellness can be a proactive lifestyle choice for their children, rather than a marketing gimmick. After attempting to get kids moving while eating a Happy Meal, the fast food chain was forced to withdraw its new toy fitness trackers due to complaints about skin irritation. The fast food chain produced a below-par product that showed it had no real belief in the wider concept but was merely making a token gesture.
In order for brands to target Generation Z successfully, authenticity is key to building consumer trust among teenagers and their parents. We cannot build a well world without ensuring the health and happiness of our society’s youngest, most innocent and most impressionable members. Improving wellbeing isn’t just an industry, it’s an obligation.